The Leica 90 Elmarit M f/2.8 Quick Lens Review

The Leica 90 Elmarit M f/2.8 Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Wow, this review has been 6 months in the making! Not that it has taken me 6 months to write it, but it has taken me 6 months to complete it because I sold my original 90 Elmarit a few months ago! Why? Well, not because I did not like the lens but mainly to help to fund another crazy camera purchase at the time. Also, truth be told, because I really did not use it very often. But as usual, with any Leica lens I sell, I started to miss it after I sold it (I had a PERFECT one). I also only had a handful of images with it so I did not feel I was qualified to really write a review for it at the time. I am not like the guys who review items they never shoot with. Probably why I do not have a “review” for every camera and lens ever made showing up in google. Yep, I actually USE and shoot with the cameras and lenses I write about. Sometimes I will spend a month or two with a camera before writing about it, other times a couple of weeks. Either way, by the time I sit down in my comfy chair to write, you can be sure I have really used the piece of gear I am writing about.

So here I am months later and thanks to Leica dealer Ken Hansen I am now the happy owner of another 90 Elmarit for my M9. Again, this one is perfect and even 6 bit coded. Every now and then Ken gets these and many of then are like brand new so if you have been looking for one, I suggest e-mailing him to see what he has available. Ken is an old school no nonsense dealer and he deals through e-mail and phone. He used to have a huge store in NYC back in the day and these days he is much smaller though he is still an official Leica dealer. If you ever e-mail him, tell him I sent you!

With the new 90 in hand for a few days now I am ready to write this review, but it will be more of a quickie real world use review because there is not really much I can say about this one. It’s a damn good lens.

“Violin Annie” – The Leica M9 with a 90 Elmarit at 2.8, wide open

The Return Of The 90mm

Ever since the release of the M9 there has been a bit of “M9 Hysteria” within the Leica community. It seems like EVERYONE wants an M9 these days! Well, almost everyone. There are many reasons for this and I am not going to list them here, but to make a long story short, the M9 is a camera capable of some of the best image quality in the world for 35mm digital. One of the reasons why is the Leica glass, the lenses…the little jewels that are sprinkled with magic dust by the Leica gods before they get shipped out to the photographers of the world. They cost a fortune but damn, they are usually something special. I also happen to really like the sensor in the M9. I find it pretty amazing actually, even if those DXO tests said otherwise, he he.

With the introduction of the M9, many M shooters were going back to the 90mm focal length. On a full frame M9, the 90mm focal length makes for a wonderful portrait lens and while it is not an “everyday” lens for the M9, it is indeed a nice focal length to have on hand when you want that little bit of  extra reach. With Leica, we have a few options for a 90mm lens, many of them you can find on the used market. I have tried and sent back the really older 90’s like the tele-elmarit which were not up to par with the newer versions. Out of all of the 90 Elmarit variations, this is the best (slide out hood) one I have tried, the 90 Elmarit 2.8.

What is also very nice is that the 90 Elmarit M has a rendering that borders on modern and classic, much like a 28 or 50 summicron. It’s sharp but smooth at the same time. The full frame sensor on the M9 shows what  this lens can do and it’s gorgeous from 2.8 and down.

The sad thing is that Leica discontinued this lens, and I think it sucks because this is very fine lens IMO. The 90 Elmarit is an f2.8 lens, which sounds slow in leica land but in all reality, for a 90mm focal lenth, f/2.8 is plenty fast.

There are other choices in Leica for a 90mm. The main mack-daddy of them all is the 90 Summicron f/2. This is a beast of a lens. Big, heavy and a but unruly on the M. It does indeed have a gorgeous rendering and from f/2 on it is sharp as can be. It’s also expensive these days at around $3700 (but ALL Leica lenses are expensive). The next 90 we have from Leica is the newest 90 Summarit. This lens is nice and has a faster f/2.5 maximum aperture. I shot with this lens once and found it to be a bit clinical for my tastes. Something about it did not speak to me like most Leica glass I try but I did only have it for 3 days and shot with it for a total of 20 minutes. Maybe I did not give it a fair shake.

So as I have already stated, I have owned the 90 Summicron, shot with the 90 Summarit and even tried some of the older 90’s like the tele-elmarit and  I have to admit that my favorite 90 in the Leica line up is this little compact 90 Elmarit!

So why would I prefer a 2.8 lens over the F2 of the Summicron? Well, the main reason is SIZE. The 90 Summicron, while being a fine lens, is on the large and heavy side of Leica glass. The Elmarit is skinny looking sort of like an elongated 50 Summilux ASPH. The latest version is a gem with it’s slide out hood, that slides out REALLY nice and smooth.

So why did Leica stop making this lens? Well, when they released the Summarit line of lenses, the new 90, with a faster 2.5 aperture seemed like a good enough reason. When I tested the 90 Summarit I did not find it had the same rendering as this Elmarit. I found it a little flat and a little more clinical. It was actually my least favorite of the Summarit line, and one reason that I did not review it. I adore the 35 and 75 Summarits but the 90 was a bit of a miss for me instead of a hit. ALso, the build of this Elmarit is nicer than that of the Summarit. The Summarit is still a great lens at a great price for Leica, but I still feel this Elmarit is the better lens.

Leica M9 and 90 Elmarit at 2.8

Focus/Sharpness Test

Since the M9 started hitting the streets I have had quite a few e-mails from those who bought a 90 Summicron F2 only to have focus issues. I would read on forums that a 90 is hard to focus on an M, and it is hit or miss. Let me state right here that this is a myth. A 90 is no harder to focus than a 35 or 50. If you look through your M9 viewfinder with a 90mm lens attached your focus patch is the same size as it is with a 50mm lens, or 35mm lens, or ANY lens for that matter. If you can focus with a 35, you can focus a 90. It may be a little harder to compose because your viewfinder is smaller, but as for focus, the RF patch is the same no matter what lens you attach.

If you find that your 90mm shots are out of focus then your camera body is probably in need of adjustment (from my experience). When I received my first M9, my 90 would not focus correctly on it. Turned out my rangefinder was not spot on which caused the focus to be off with longer lenses. When my camera was adjusted then I had no issues with ANY lens. My new M9 is spot on and focusing this 90 (or any 90) is as easy as focusing any other lens. With that said, let me say right now that this lens is very sharp, even wide open at F2.8 so if you have a correctly calibrated body this lens will NOT disappoint.

Just for fun, instead of shooting newspapers I went out in my backyard with my new 90 Elmarit and set it to f/2.8. I shot an old shovel, a couple of weeds, and the side of a tree. I was paying close attention to my focus point and when I went back in to look over these test shots I was blown away by not only the sharpness at 2.8, but also the smooth rendering and out of focus backgrounds.

Click image below for larger view

Here is a 100% crop of the shovel handle, taken at f/2.8

Here is another shot I took with my last 90 a few months back. This was also wide open at f/2.8 just to show how sharp this lens can be when shot at its widest aperture. This is where most lens show their weakness, but not this lens! Click the image for a larger view.

No problems with the sharpness of this lens at all and it gets even sharper when you stop down.

But is f/2.8 Too Slow! Well, not for a 90!

With most Leica lenses coming in at f/1.4 and f/2 the Elmarit seems like a slow lens at f/2.8. But being a 90mm, 2.8 is actually plenty fast. I have shot the f/2 Summicron and while I really loved the lens, it was bigger, heavier and had a different look to the images. I not only prefer the Elmarit for its size and weight, but also its rendering. For example, when shooting a portrait with the 90 Summicron you will not really want to shoot at F2 as your subjects nose may be out of focus due to the shallow Depth Of Field of a 90mm shot at f/2. For portraits, you will probably want to stop down to f/2.8-f/4 for best results. With that said, if subject separation is your #1 priority, the 90 Summicron has way of making some images look so 3D it is mind boggling.

Many will prefer the Summicron but I feel this little Elmarit is the 90 to get, IF you can find one of the latest versions on the used market. The latest has the slide out hood and I have seen them sell anywhere from $1000-$2500, yes, $2500. I guess the price one pays depends on condition, age, and availability. At the peak of the M9/90mm mania a few months back I saw many of these sell for much more  than they usually go for. To find a mint copy with box, papers and case with 6-bit coding may set you back a bit of money but still probably less (or the same) as a new 90 Summarit, which IMO is inferior to this Elmarit.

So for a 90, f/2.8 is just about right and with its compact size, the Elmarit can easily be slipped in any bag. A Leica M with a 35 and 90 makes for a pretty versatile kit and the beauty of an M camera is it’s small size mixed with it’s outstanding performance. An M9 and 90 Elmarit make for a wonderful combo and I am happy to once again have this lens back in my bag for those time I want the extra reach. It probably will not get too much use but it’s nice to have. Heck, my new ultimate kit would be a 35 Lux II, 50 Lux ASPH and this 90!

This was shot wide open at f/2.8 from a distance and is an OOC JPEG!

Bokeh is silky smooth in most situations…

My Final Conclusion on the Leica 90 Elmarit

This review is pretty short and to the point and the reason for that is that there is not much to say. I sat and thought about what negatives there were with this lens and I really found none. The only negative about this lens is that Leica stopped making it! I feel lucky that I found one again and mine has the slide out hood (latest version), is 6-bit coded and I can find no faults with it. It’s sharp from f/2.8 down, it has a nice smooth rendering, the bokeh is nice, and it is relatively easy to find on the used market for a not so crazy price.

If you are looking for something with a little more reach than your standard 50 on your M camera, the 90 Elmarit is a lens you can’t go wrong with. It will get you in a little closer while retaining that Leica quality that you crave. As I stated earlier, these lenses have to be found on the used market as  they are no longer made. I got mine from Leica dealer Ken Hansen who gets these in from time to time. He even had a new old stock titanium version a little while ago, but sold it quick. You can e-mail him HERE and ask him what he has available if you are interested. Be sure to tell him I sent ya :)

I will leave you with a few more snaps I took with the 90 Elmarit. Nothing too fancy, just mainly quick snaps I shot while I was out and about with camera in hand. Hopefully these will be helpful to some of you! Thanks for reading!

Steve

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51 thoughts on “The Leica 90 Elmarit M f/2.8 Quick Lens Review

  1. Another great review Steve; balanced, relaxed prose and backed up with excellent sample shots. Just ordered my 90mm elmarit and thoroughly looking forward to a ‘winter of content.’

  2. I use the earlier Elmarit f2.8 and actually started my business with this and the 50mm f2.8 Elmar with a pair of M3 bodies. I’ve found f8 to be the optimum aperture, using a plain background for both lenses. Not noticed flare on the 90 (it’s actually a 99.5 as it says 95 on the barrel) but am going to make a card extension to the hood to see how this works out.

  3. Steve thank you for the review and the great site. Following your review I just found and bought a 90 mm Elmarit 2.8 in silver for my M240 safari and love it. I knew I was not going to use it that much and did not want to invest a lot. I also needed something relatively light (although not that light in Silver…). It is just perfect even if my prefered one is still the 50 mm Summilux! Julien

  4. Doing a search for US dollar value to sell my 90 elmarit 2.8 slider hood model when i came across this review and now may just consider an m9 and use it . In any case what will a mint 90 bring ?

  5. Another great review Steve, thankyou. The Elmarit lens formula..always as f2.8? Is there any great difference in IQ with the vario-elmarits which are produced in Asia for the Lumix cameras and signed of by Leica? I am curious to understand the lens schema. Thanks.

  6. Steve,

    I really liked this review. It is very much in the spirit and tone of your earliest reviews, the ones that made me a regular reader here. Great article!

    RC

  7. I’m alarmed at the number of times I’ve read “I didn’t like it, so I didn’t review it.” A bit damaging to your credibility as a reviewer, in my opinion, and makes me question how you gush about every single piece of kit anybody sends you.
    That being said, I still appreciate the reviews, I just take them with a grain of salt and make judgements based more on your example photos than the review itself.

    Cheers.

    1. I’m not a typical “reviewer”. if I do not like a piece of gear (and I have shot with quite a bit tha I did NOT like at all – Canon G10, G11, S95…plenty of NIkon P&S cameras, SIgma DP series) If I do not like it, why should I spend days working with the camera and writing negatively about it? What you read here is all about the gear that I like enough to write about. Simple. I’m not trying to emulate any other reviewed or site but there are tons emulating me these days. Anyway, thanks for the comments,

      Steve

  8. I just read this review. Again one should not be too picky about Leica lens. I frist bought a F2 35mm, then traded it for F1.4. Both were ASPH. I use only a M7 and flim. I frist bought the 90mm F2.8 ASPH, then the APO ASPH F2. Iove lens I have now. I love having the extra speed. The weight of the F2 is not a factor to me. I like the feel of a little heft. Come on, try a Canon with an 35 F1.4. Bottom line, the 35mm F2 is a sharper lens then the F1.4. But I need the speed. I never noiced any foucus shift, not saying it isn’ t there. Just I will wait see with the M9, if the money comes my way. The difference between the 90 F2.8 ASPH and my APO F2.0, well I just do not see it. If you a great lens for the money get one of these. I like having the F2.0, but this is in the world of Leica, a deal. A great lens.
    If one were to what to save money and get a three lens Leica outfit. It would any three of:
    28mm F2.8 Elmarit ASPH
    35mm F2.0 Cron ASPH
    50mm F2.0 Crom ASPH
    90mm F2.8 Elmarit ASPH Used
    How can you lose! Even if you get the new 35mm F1.4 Sum ASPH it is not as good as the F2.0 ASPH. You pay for speed, unless you buy Nikon or Canon. The fact being, the slower lens are NOT made with the same high quality as an “L” or fast Nikon lens. Bottom line take pictures. All Leica is good.

    1. Haha, I totally agree with you! I am using 28mm F2.8 Elmarit, 50mm F2.0 Summicron, and 90mm F2.8 Elmarit with my M9, and I could shoot almost any subject what I just want with a perfect result…But I think 50mm and 90mm are not ASPH yet…

  9. @ Steve H. and Miguel… I recently picked up a 90mm Elmarit (not 6 bit coded) from someone who said it worked great on their M6 but when i received it there was about 2-3 inches of front focus on my M9. My 35 ‘cron focused great. I sent JUST the 90 to the guys at Essex Camera Services in New Jersey and when I got it back less than a week later it focused perfectly. Luckily this time it wasn’t the M9 that was out of alignment. Great lens. Thanks for another wonderful review!

  10. Thanks for a great review. I am currently in the market for a 90mm M-lens to use on my GH1 before I can upgrade to a Leica Mx camera sometime in the future. I now got an offer for an older 90mm M-Elmarit with the serial number 2304139, which seems to be from the late 60s and in good condition. Can any of you comment if an older lens like this would be suitable for use on a digital M camera, or would the newer Elmarit models be significantly better in terms of optical quality? Also, do you think that a price around $450 would be reasonable for this old a lens? Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Thorsten

  11. Just a comment on how fashion drives Leica lens prices: I sold my Elmarit 90mm 2 or 3 years ago for about $600, and that was a fair and common price at the time. It was just as good a lens then as it is now; it just wasn’t popular.
    I bought a used Summicron (pre-asph) 35mm 10 years ago for $1000. That price has held steady until about the last year (maybe until the M9 came out?). Now it’s $1200 to $1400 and climbing, despite the fact that the lens is 10 years older.
    Glad I don’t have to buy one now….

    1. I used to have a Tele-Elmarit (Canada), nice lens but with a kind of old school signature (less saturated, less contrasty) and a more fragile construction than most Leica lenses. I switched for the modern Elmarit and I’m very pleased. It is not much heavier than the very light Tele-Elmarit, but it draws perfectly : sharp but not clinical (or less clinicial than most modern Asph). And the built-in hood is very handy. I think it is the best 90 for the digital M.

  12. @Peter – Great! Glad you are happy with yours!

    @Max – Thanks! As for the 135, not a fan of it on an M because the frame lines are too small. never had a problem focusing it, but composing is not the most pleasant thing in the world.

    @Darell – We used to drink Illy but switched to whatever was cheapest at the grocery store (whole bean) – My wife misses her Illy though so we may have to start that up again :)

    @Ashwin – Thanks for your comments and as usual, your expertise!

    @Elaine – So the 50 Lux FINALLY came in for you huh? That took a while!

    @Mark – I agree and really enjoy this 90 for its size and wonderful look. Thanks!

    @Gloom – Thanks!

    @Ravi – Thanks!

    @Damen – Thanks for the comments, the 135 F4 is indeed a good value. We own a Contax T2 and love it as well!

    @Miguel – I would bet anything that your M9 body is out of alignment. I had the same issue with my 1st M9. The 35 and 50 worked great but a 90, any 90, would not focus correctly. I sent in my body and when it returned it worked perfect with ALL lenses, even the 90.

    As for more film…yes, soon. Just taking a break from the expense of it due to recent purchases :)

  13. hey Steve,
    I saved up to buy this very same lens and have been incredibly frustrated over the past 2.5 months trying to get it to work with my M9. It front focuses (2-3cm) and has been sent to a UK independent lens expert twice during that time although has been returned to me both times exactly the same =(

    I’m getting close to the end of my patience. My 35 Cron and 50 Lux ASPH are absolutely spot on with my M9 ??? I may just have to sell this Elmarit (expert says it is fine on his film M6??) and try another copy I guess… Any suggestions?

    Great site by the way – I’m a follower :)

    PS – can we expect any new shots from your MP soon?

  14. Then again, what do I know ? I think the best value 35mm lenses are the Konica AF and the Nikon 35ti (maybe the Contax T2/3 as well) – all of which come with a camera attached for free !!!

  15. Actually I think the best value in M lens land is the 135mm f4 – 135mm on a rangefinder is tough (hence you don’t want faster than f4), but this means their prices are incredibly low for such a good lens. I do think the 90mm 2.8 is second best value wise though (unless we could still get the Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 for just over $300) !

  16. You had me at this one – ” I am not like the guys who review items they never shoot with. ”

    It reminded me of a certain gent who is the superman of camera gear who had reviewed no less than 2 doz cameras – all negative reviews of course .

    Wonderful photos all .

  17. I assume you are a fan of Illy coffee since you have one of their expresso cups. I got hooked on the stuff in Paris of all places and now have it shipped automatically every month to the door. Its good service Illy provides.

    Now on to lenses. I owned the 90mm f2 ASPH/APO for over 3 years. It was a stellar performer and I truly enjoyed the lens. Next to the Noctilux it was the best built, most solid and precision feeling lens I owned (maybe the size and heft had something to do with that). One day I was shooting with a friend who had the 90 Elmarit (latest version) and I became jealous. The images shot with the Elmarit didn’t seem to give up much to the AA Cron and it was so much smaller.

  18. I had a 90 cron, and it was very sharp. I had no issues focusing it. It was rather big. I didn’t use it much. It was a nice lens otherwise. Thanks for the review, Steve.

    Oh, I got a call about my 50 Summilux being in. But I no longer need it as I have a cron, and couldn’t see spending that amount of cash. Oh well. The M9 is still not here for me yet though. I’m still on the list! Ugh!

  19. Ha, Ashwin…the 90 Macro Elmar. Probably the greatest 90mm no one ever talks about. Small, collapsible and killer. f4 but who cares when it fits in your pocket. Don’t use mine as much as I should but I love it when I do.

  20. Hi Steve,
    Outstanding review here. I owned the 90 elmarit with slide out hood for a very long time, about 2 years, and I really loved it. I ended up selling it (for $500, yeeks, 1 year ago) and picked up a 90 APO-cron, which is a magical lens, but a bulky bugger, and find it to have better sharpness and, as you said, a different way of rendering. The 90 elmarit, for some reason, reminds me more of the 75 APO-cron in its way of handling images, which is really outstanding. It is the TOP buy, in my mind, for price-performance-size ratio, of any of the 90’s, though I must say I am really loving the 90 macro-elmar as well, which will come with me for travels.

    As you said, you can’t really go wrong in the Leica world, but yeah, if you can find these suddenly scare (and once very abundant prior to the M9) lenses, pick it up and cherish it…It’s quite a deal….

    Best,
    Ashwin

  21. Another great review Steve. Slightly off topic, but in your photos, it looks like you folks drink Illy coffee too in which case you climb even higher in my opinion as that is one fine cup of Joe!

  22. @Armanius.

    Well under Bright Daylight they are nice, but as soon as there is a shadow or you are indoors(i.e. churches) or twilight starts they are noisy like hell and you cannot see they details anymore. With a OVF like the one from the E3 no issues at all.- IMO it will take at least 5 years for EVF to get the OVF perfection.

    B

  23. @Borbarad – IMO, the EVF on the EP2 is awesome. Better than any OVF that I’ve ever used in a SLR. Super bright, big magnification. Noise only becomes an issue in very dim conditions in which even a current version Noctilux would be useless. The EVF on the EP2 actually makes MF enjoyable without having to do the 7x or 10x magnification thing.

  24. Thanks Steve, love my 90mm Elmarit and wasn’t crazy about the Summicron because of size and the price difference for one f stop. As far as focus, well, longer focal lengths are a bit of a problem with RF because you just have to stand further away from the subject. Ever tried to take a head/shoulders portrait with a 135 and focus on the eyes? Not fun.

  25. @ Steve

    Well, the 50mm F2 is very slow, jep – but very sharp. But the PanaLeica 25mm is not that much slower on m4/3, if even at all slower.

    Personal I don’t like m4/3 that much. Poor lenses which need heavy software-correction, noisy EVF and even the LCD gets really useless once the noise start kinging in. No I’ll keep my Pro 4/3 Stuff, ignore m4/3 and go straight to Leica M ;-)

    B

  26. Steve, I was lucky enough to find a mint copy of the 90mm Elmarit on eBay back in December. I think that this would have to be the best value Leica M lens around. Agree with you wholeheartedly on sharpness and beautiful bokeh. If you have a Leica M and can get your hands on one of these then you will NOT regret it, ever. Cheers, Peter

  27. Thanks guys,

    @Morgan – I got a great deal with Ken :)

    @Allen – Let me know how you like it :)

    @Chris – Me neither!

    @Eric – Yep, I agree because I have done it may times :)

    @Armanius – Yep, small and compact is where it’s with Leica IMO. But the crons are also beautiful.

    @Borbarad – I’m a speed freak and love 1.4 lenses but in a 90, 2.8 is plenty sufficient IMO. The S2 lenses are f/2.5 btw and I agree, they are gorgeous lenses but that also has to do with the snesor size of the S2. A true dream camera :) As for the 4/3 primes, I used to shoot with the 50 f2 all the time, great lens if not a bit slow but I am not interested in shooting 4/3 these days. If I do, it’s M4/3 and using those lenses on m4/3 with an adapter makes them pretty slow to AF.

  28. Great Review as usual and I I just can’t wait for the 50mm Summilux.

    Well someday I will own a Leica M. But for now just three points.

    1) Sensor.
    Well, DXO knows their stuff, but the problem is that their figures can’t measure what a Kodak FFT CCD is cable of. Its just the Best sensor out there apart for HighISO. That’s why the Kodak is used in MF Systems (i.e S, Hassi..) and Cameras like the M8, M9 or Olympus E1 (its a shame that Olympus dropped the CCD and went for a NMOS)

    2) Personal I would say that F2 really counts. just look inside the new LFI for the new S2 Lens Test. Stunning!

    3) You actually should test following 4/3 Primes: Leica D Summilux 25mm F1.4 and Zuiko 50mm F2 Macro.

    B

  29. I was looking for a 90 Elmarit, but couldn’t find one, and ended up getting a mint condition 90 Cron (pre-asph) for $800. I like the 90 Cron, but it is indeed big and heavy for a M lens. I end up using the CV 75/2.5 much more just b/c it’s small and compact.

  30. F2.8 is plenty fast for portraiture. F4 – 5.6 is usually the range a lot of portraits are taken at anyways, and anything below 2.8 and your gonna get one eye out of focus.

  31. I’ve had (and sold) two pre-ASPH Summicrons and two Summarits in my efforts to get a sharp 90. I’m not selling the Elmarit-M!

  32. Steve! I am so excited that you finally reviewed this lens because I actually sold my chunky 90 Summicron to get this sleek 90 Elmarit last week. It will arrive sometime this week and after reading this review, I am now really glad that I made that decision and can’t wait to get my lens now. I hope this coming 90 Elmarit will have the same 3D look from my previous 90. Anyhow, I really enjoy this review and your photos!

    1. Based on Steve’s review, I purchased the 90mm Elmarit 2.8 lens on Ebay, it is a very nice lens and with the M9, it does have some magic with the pictures.

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